Jerusalem's Mayor Uses Paternalism to Keep the Arab Residents in Line

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Near Jerusalem's Damascus Gate, October 24, 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s order to intensify law enforcement in East Jerusalem reflects collective punishment against the city’s Arab residents. The municipality’s new policy conforms with the police’s policy, which regards all East Jerusalemites as guilty of disturbing the peace. So there’s no problem doling out all kinds of punishments, from closing roads to the indiscriminate use of crowd-dispersal methods like tear gas or the vile-smelling liquid sprayed by so-called skunk trucks.

Barkat has instructed the heads of the municipal departments to crack down on Arab residents in a number of ways such as home demolitions, city-tax collection and business licensing. The law has been used to punish the city’s Arab residents before, and it corresponds with Barkat’s belief that an aggressive form of the carrot and the stick is the way to erase the Green Line in Jerusalem. This approach views the Arabs as children who need rewards or punishments to get them to follow the path Israel has marked out for them.

Barkat claims, with some justification, that under him, for the first time since 1967, that city has started to seriously confront many of East Jerusalem’s serious problems in planning, education,and infrastructure. But the latest decision reveals a worldview that regards services for Arab Jerusalemites as favors bestowed by the regime, while law enforcement is a punishment to educate the people. This policy also pleases people on the right calling for a tougher stance on East Jerusalem.

More than anything, this approach exposes the deep gap between the two parts of the city. It exposes a fact that even Barkat acknowledges — that the Arab neighborhoods are treated much differently than the Jewish ones. No one could imagine such steps in Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods.

The solution for Jerusalem’s problems is not in the mayor’s hands, it’s in the prime minister’s. But Benjamin Netanyahu, during his long years in office, has chosen to do nothing to advance a stable solution for the city, something that requires dialogue with the Arab residents.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir BarkatCredit: Emil Salman

Until that happens, Barkat, rather than seeking revenge, should try straightforward dialogue in good faith on shared living arrangements and increasing living standards in the Arab neighborhoods.